Simone Biles Is Having Fun Again
1:11 PM EDT on August 8, 2023
The most newsworthy moment from this past weekend's U.S. Classic was Simone Biles again landing a Yurchenko double pike vault, a feat so difficult that no woman has (yet) landed it in international competition. But my favorite moment of the competition, and the one that was perhaps most meaningful, came right after Biles landed her vault.
What did Biles do afterward? First, she smiled that megawatt Biles smile. She high-fived her coach, Laurent Landi. Then she saw her teammate Jordan Chiles, and they both did a celebration dance. It's a fist pump straight in the air, a jump with a spin in the air, and then another fist pump, just like the first one. It's not exactly the type of move a gymnast would throw into a proper floor routine. It's the silly stuff you do after a great day at a work or a big personal accomplishment, usually in private, an expression of pure joy. Except this one happened in front of thousands of screaming fans and live TV cameras and who knows how many people watching, because it's Biles.
That's when I knew Biles was back. Because she was having fun.
Biles talked about the celebration dance afterward with NBC's Zora Stephenson. She said it started out as a joke in the gym and just kept going.
"I always do it in the gym, and the girls are like if you land your vault please do it. And I almost forgot until Jordan reminded me," she said. "But it's just something to keep the girls [having] fun and we can all laugh at and just enjoy each other."
This was a running theme for Biles this weekend as she talked to reporters: finding her joy again. She talked about working on herself, going to therapy regularly, putting herself first, and taking the time to "just embrace what happened today." She wanted to be happy for herself, and for her teammates. This will sound familiar to anyone else who has also done therapy or even just gone through some shit. Except, unlike most of us, what precipitated all this happened in front of the world. Before the Tokyo Olympics, Biles had appeared to be an unstoppable force; an athlete who seemed to literally defy the forces that keep us bound to Earth. When she withdrew from much of the competition in those Olympics with the twisties, then came back for the balance beam final to win bronze, it forced fans to reckon with the all-too-easy-to-forget reality, that Biles, like all of us, is human.
This came up when Biles talked to the press afterward. Per the transcript at Gymnastics Now, a reporter asked Biles if "doing it for me" meant something different than it had before. Biles responded:
I think going into it, I really was doing it for me, and then there were all those outside noises and then everybody telling me like, you’re our gold medal token and all that stuff. And that’s from our inside team. That was really tough.
And then I would have a practice and I would be concentrated and I would have fun, and then they would come up to me afterwards and be like, Simone, you need to be more cheery, the girls are struggling a little bit. And so there were a lot of things that, since I had already been to an Olympic Games, that they were also expecting out of me that I kind of couldn’t do my own job. I did as much as I could. And I’m so grateful that I could help those girls because that’s what a captain does—you guide those girls—but it’s at some point, we can’t nitpick everything we do.
As long as we’re in there doing our training, which that’s what we were doing, I think that’s all that matters, but then it got a little bit crazy on the outside. But I’m really grateful, and I’m super excited for all those girls that got to compete in Tokyo and show off their talent and now a lot of them are here or in college… So happy.
Biles will go down as one of the best gymnasts of any era. The same way my generation grew up hearing about before and after Nadia, this one will have before and after Simone. She doesn't need any of this and, somehow, that made this weekend's competition so much sweeter. Biles started gymnastics for the same reason so many of us start anything as children—it seemed like fun. Seeing her just all-out enjoying her sport, smiling, laughing, doing a celebration dance with her teammate, felt like a revelation. That, more than anything else, made me think there will be one more Olympics for her.
But, as Biles warned us, let's not get our hopes up. She's taking it slow.
"When you get married, they ask when you’re having a baby. You come to Classics, they’re asking you about the Olympics," she said. "I think we’re just trying to take it one step at a time and we’ll see."